Archaeologists excavating on the site of some recently discovered ruins on the northern coast of Western Australia, may have just made the greatest find in the history of the country: the remains an 11th century Viking settlement.
The scientists, associated with the Department of Archaeology of the University of Sydney, were called of the site after some locals discovered what looked like the foundation of an ancient building in July, near Derby.
The archaeologists, directed by Professor Allison Fletcher, were expecting a site from the early colonial period, but they rapidly realized that they were dealing with something completely different.
They have unearthed the foundations of three larger buildings which were identified as houses, and two smaller workshops identified as a carpentry, which was also used as a boat repair area, and a smithy, containing a forge and iron slag.
The type of construction and the items found on the site are very similar to the various Viking colonies discovered in Groenland and Iceland.
“Everything on the site suggests that this was a Viking colony,” says Professor Fletcher. “Honestly, we have no idea how they made it here, but these people were almost certainly Norsemen. The various dating analysis have shown that the site dated from around 1000 AD, precisely at the time of “Viking expansion”. The architecture and the various objects found on the site are all consistent with other Norse colonies or trading posts.”
The archaeologists have discovered a large quantity and variety of artefacts on the site, including a few weapons and blacksmithing tools, some bronze and silver jewelry, four ivory combs, a few stone oil lamps, a dozen iron rivets and a bone knitting needle.
While most of the items seem to be of Norse origin, a few of the items suggest that the inhabitants of the site were either conducting piracy in the region or they were part of an extended maritime trade network.
Two broken pieces of porcelain, a bronze vessel and a jade ring from China were found in the tomb of one of the women, and some semi-precious stones from India and Sri Lanka were found in the tomb of one of the warriors. This proves that the Vikings had some form of contacts with the Asian continent, but the nature of these contacts remains uncertain.
Professor Fletcher believes that the Norsemen could have chosen this site for its natural harbor, the availability of eucalyptus wood and the region’s abundant iron ore.
It’s a long distance from the site of any known Viking settlement, expedition or raid, however, and it remains unclear how the Norsemen actually reached Australia.
“The most probable route is certainly by going around Africa and rounding the Cape of Good Hope, like Vasco de Gamma did centuries later,” says Professor Fletcher. “If we consider the Vikings’ navigational techniques, they must have remained close to the African and then Asian coasts during the whole trip, meeting countless cities and people along the way. I can’t even imagine how many difficulties they must have faced before they made it here!”
The Vikings were a seafaring people who raided and traded from their Scandinavian homelands across wide areas of northern and central Europe, as well as Russia, during the late 8th to late 11th centuries.
Using their advanced seafaring skills and their famous longships, they are known to have created colonies and trading posts throughout the North Atlantic islands, navigating as far as the north-eastern coast of North America.
The Vikings are also known to have raided North Africa and some Mediterranean islands, but this is the first time that any trace of their presence is found in the Indian Ocean.